An Open Letter to All Parents of Students

Martin Rezny
Words of Tomorrow
Published in
8 min readAug 28, 2017

Do you want your children to get the most out of their education?


I guess it will be best if I address this directly to the people who can truly make all the difference in the world when it comes to how education works. Because yes, you, the parents, have the key influence on the system. In most places that are reasonably developed, you decide which school your children will attend or which tutors will be teaching them what. Not to mention your influence over what children will or won’t be allowed to do, or your votes.

First, a question — why do you want your children to be educated? In general, I hope almost all of you want your children to educate themselves so that they will get the best chances of living a good life, ideally better than the one that you have lead yourselves. Unfortunately, that’s quite nebulous. Let’s assume the most selfish and narrow version of this answer and address that. Let’s assume what we want is for the children to have a paying job.

After all, relatively few of you would argue that “alternative” forms of education cannot be fun or foster some personal growth, but many of you do want your children to become materially self-sufficient at some point. If an education system is to be considered successful, it has to allow for a future in which those who get the education can survive. Personal growth and getting to do what one’s passionate about are nice, but let’s view them as a bonus.

What I will argue is that even within this pragmatic point of view, with materialistic priorities, you still should want your kids to get true education, acquiring the ability to exercise free, rational thought, before or parallel to learning specific skills that they choose to learn on the basis of their self-knowledge and objective knowledge of the world. What I will argue is that you shouldn’t choose for them either what or how they should learn.

To explain why, I shall attempt to dispel the main wrong assumptions:

a) To guarantee a future job, it’s best to learn practical skills now

The only thing this guarantees is that those skills will become obsolete, especially these days, rendering the education useless. In some fields that specifically appear to be the biggest deal in the future, like programming or robotics, any current practical skills often become antiquated even before the conventional education in the field is completed. This is why it’s not surprising that many of the best coders are self-taught high school students or college dropouts who simply have been using computers since early age.

You may think that practical schooling will still help, and that may be true in some cases, but it’s not going to be enough if the practical skill in question is not something that the student loves doing all the time, including outside of school. In technical fields in particular, the most advanced knowledge doesn’t actually have a chance to get into the textbooks before it already isn’t the most advanced. And to learn the basics, you only need the internet, a community of people with the same hobby, and perhaps a mentor.

And finally, if the skill is something very old school and basic that’s pretty much eternal, like plumbing, successfully learning that at school is still entirely pointless if the student is resolute about not wanting to work that way, and/or if they’re better suited for a different line of work. My dad for example was forced to become a plumber. He did it for a bit and then never again, as he learned that he has a knack for security — a better job. His studies were therefore a complete and utter waste of time he won’t get back.

What do you know about future jobs, anyway? If you knew which jobs specifically will be super important in the future, you wouldn’t need your kids to make a lot of money on their own — you’d be able to use that knowledge to easily generate a fortune. The problem is, nobody knows which skills will be important in the future. So why not let your kids choose to focus on what they’re best suited for? That way, they will at least develop some skill to its maximum potential and be willing to actually use it.

b) To get and edge on the job market, one needs to master standards

This idea is so hilariously backwards that all I should need to say is this — if you learn the same thing as everyone else at school in any given field, how can it give you a competitive advantage? What’s valuable anywhere, including the job market, is what not many people have. I don’t even have to get into the content of any standards, which is a whole other can of worms. The only skills truly valuable on the job market are those that are rare.

That’s just supply and demand. As someone who has learned English by playing computer games and debating, but refused to get any standard certification, I know this for a fact. I have basically just pursued my interests unrelated to learning a language, and the result is what you’re reading now — an English skill that is objectively much better than that of most English teachers in my country who learned the language conventionally at school to pass the standardized tests. My English is better BECAUSE I didn’t do that.

Even more amusingly, I have now landed a well-paid job as a writer for a global corporation in part also because I decided to focus on American English, not British English that all Czech English teachers are taught to recognize as the only English. I was actually repeatedly told at school that I shouldn’t be using American pronunciation. Turns out I was right not to let myself get discouraged. You should at least afford your kids the courtesy to choose how to approach a subject you want them to learn, to get an edge.

Systems are terrible at giving individuals an advantage. They may be great equalizers when that’s needed, but that’s exactly why they’re so bad at empowering individuals to be unique. If you want your kid to stand out, the best way to accomplish it is by letting them do their own thing, as long as they’re learning something. If they gather information from different sources, learn to use different tools, and learn different skills, chances are they will end up being better than standard and have a bargaining chip.

c) Students need to be taught discipline to ensure their career success

This is definitely a very parent thing to believe. Even assuming that schools weren’t particularly great at teaching knowledge or skills, some people would still argue that it is the school regime that’s beneficial to the students — learn how to be places and do things on time, acquire some work ethic, learn to respect authority, things of that nature. Of course, what this regime produces in reality are subservient aimless workaholics with anxiety issues that fall easily for group think and can’t speak up or defend their rights.

You may think I’m exaggerating, but the fixing of this mess is the main part of what I have been doing for years at dozens of Czech schools with the help my NGO. In my experience, the older the students are, the less able they are to express themselves or think critically or creatively and the harder it is to teach them any of those skills (unless they have spent years doing some extracurricular activities). Since the only thing that has happened to all of them between ages 10 and 25 was schooling, I imagine it is the main culprit.

The best competitive debaters in the world are in fact those that started doing that as high school students or even earlier, which definitely requires acquiring the ability to challenge authority. Respectfully of course, but also mercilessly. Obedience and critical thinking are generally at odds with each other, often extremely, and many gifted students who rightfully rebel for good reasons get punished for that by school authorities who only seek to maintain order at all costs, or even worse, some hypocritical appearances.

As for work ethic, some of the best innovators and creatives give credit to their laziness. If you think about it, why would an obedient drone want to innovate anything? It’s the lazy person who wants to make something easier, permanently, so that they don’t have to do it again — a literal anti-work ethic, working above all to eradicate work. It’s the most creative person who gets the most bored by lack of challenge or stimulation, so common at schools. If your kid is that kind of malcontent, channel their talent, don’t suppress it.

Final Words

Apart from criminal forms of abuse, there’s nothing worse that you can do to your kid than to treat them with disrespect and injustice, denying them the freedom to define their own identity and future goals. I often encounter a sentiment among teachers and parents that kids and young adults have to be treated differently than adults, specifically, that they need to be talked down upon and commanded. I often hear teachers complain about their students.

In my experience, there’s no such thing as bad students, only bad teachers. I have seen all kinds of kids respond favorably to being treated with respect as equals. I believe that the scientific effect involved is a variation of the observer-expectancy effect, similar to a self-fulfilling prophecy — expect your students to be dumb and unruly and treat them as such, and they will meet your expectation. Expect them to be intelligent and responsible, and they will also meet your expectation. It’s gradual, but it does amount to a lot.

Also, more than from school, children learn from the example of their parents and teachers, so I’d advise you to be the kind of person to them that you want them to become. You can’t expect anyone to show respect if they’ve never been shown respect, love if they’ve never been shown love, or intelligence if they’ve never been shown intelligence. They will still need guidance, but nobody needs to grow up in a dictatorship. For your kids to grow up as functioning members of a democratic society, raise them up in a democracy, teaching them responsibility by letting them make decisions.

If you, the parents, start valuing and demanding education that respects the individuality of students and gives them meaningful choice of a career path and general trajectory of development, then the education systems will start gradually conforming to your demands. It won’t happen overnight, or perfectly, but it will lead to a system in which children are less bored and uncooperative at school, where teachers are less frustrated and burned out, and a future in which the whole society is comprised of people who are not easily manipulated and are able to adapt to whatever fresh hell may come.

Like what you read? Subscribe to my publication, clap, follow, or…

Make me happy and throw something into my tip jar



The Whole Damn Point of Learning

6 min read

Aug 10, 2017

How to Teach for the Future

7 min read

Mar 4, 2016

In Defense of Generalism

5 min read

Feb 24, 2016

Fixing the Game of Education

8 min read

Mar 10, 2016

The Forgotten Art of Thinking Before Speaking

5 min read

Feb 20, 2016

Why Everyone Should Debate

4 min read

Nov 15, 2014

The Importance of Community in Education

9 min read

Mar 29, 2016

Follow Your Passion at Your Own Peril

3 min read

Jun 8, 2016

My Very European Experience of Becoming an Actor

9 min read

Mar 31, 2021

Education Doesn’t Create Better People

9 min read

Nov 20, 2016